Eligibility and Benefits of Refugee Status
The United States welcomes thousands of refugees each year. A refugee is a person that is outside the United States and is seeking protection because they have suffered persecution or fear that they will suffer persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Examples of situations that may qualify as persecution include: imprisoned and tortured political dissidents or supposed undesirables; fired on protesters; committed genocide against a certain race; or made sure that members of a certain religion were left out of the political process.
If you are eligible for refugee status, you may be permitted to enter the United States and even have a path to citizenship.
Eligibility for Refugee Status
To determine if you are eligible for refugee status, USCIS will evaluate whether you meet the definition of a refugee according to section 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). In general, eligibility for refugee status requires that:
- You are located outside the United States
- You have been persecuted for fear persecution related to related to one of five things: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion
- You have not already resettled in another country
- You are admissible to the United States
You must receive a referral to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for consideration as a refugee. If you receive a referral, you will receive help filling out your application and then be interviewed abroad by a USCIS officer who will determine whether you are eligible for refugee resettlement. If you are a refugee in the United States and want your family members who are abroad to join you, you may file Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition, for your spouse and unmarried children under 21. You must file within two years of your arrival to the United States unless there are humanitarian reasons to excuse this deadline.
Obtaining a Green Card through Refugee Status
If you were granted refugee status, you must apply for your green card (permanent residence) 1 year after receiving refugee status. Your spouse and children will also need to apply for a green card if they were admitted to the United States as refugees. If you are a refugee, you must apply for a green card 1 year after being granted refugee status if you:
- Have been physically present in the United States for at least 1 year after being admitted as a refugee
- Have not had your refugee admission terminated
- Have not already acquired permanent resident (green card) status
You are not required to apply for a green card; however, it may be in your best interest to do so. You may no longer qualify for asylum status with the right to remain permanently in the United States if country conditions change in your home country or you no longer meet the definition of an asylee due to changed circumstances. What’s more, you have a path to U.S. citizenship a permanent resident.
To apply for a green card, each family member must file a separate Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status. There is no cost to file Form I-485 as a refugee.
Note: When permanent residency is granted, you will have your adjustment of status date recorded as the day you entered into the United States as a refugee.
Working with Refugee Status
As a refugee, you may work immediately upon arrival to the United States. When you are admitted to the United States you will receive a Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) stamped to indicate “Employment Authorized.” Additionally, a Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, will be filed for you in order for you to receive an Employment Authorization Document (work permit). While you are waiting for your work permit, you can present your Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record, to your employer as proof of your permission to work in the United States.
Traveling Abroad with Refugee Status
If you wish to travel outside the United States for a brief period of time but return to your refugee status and continue to pursue your application for adjustment of status, you must apply for a Refugee Travel Document before traveling. To apply for a travel document, you would file a Form I-131, Application for Travel Document.
Although you may be able to travel back to the country of past persecution, this puts you at high risk of having your refugee status revoked. CitizenPath recommends that you contact at immigration attorney before traveling abroad with refugee status. Advance parole allows certain individuals to return to the U.S. without a visa; however, advance parole does not guarantee that you will be allowed to reenter the United States. To obtain advance parole, you must file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document.